Cumberland Board Loans Money To Clean Sewer

Published 12:31 pm Thursday, April 2, 2015

CUMBERLAND — They’ve known for months the sewer was in desperate need of repair, but now supervisors have a price tag. It’s a cost they plan to pass along to the users of the system.

During a budget work session last month, County Administrator and Attorney Vivian Giles shared the results of a comprehensive inspection of the system. The cost to bring the system back up to par? Roughly $320,000, estimates Giles.

The sewer system was completed in 1997 and cost $7 million to construct. With 12 pump stations and over 250 manholes, there has been no scheduled, comprehensive inspection or maintenance plan put in place to care for the system that was installed nearly 20 years ago, say County officials.

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The inspection report estimated roughly $375,000 to repair the sewer system. But Giles pointed to several factors that will decrease the cost, such as the Sheriff’s Office’s willingness to direct traffic when needed so that flaggers do not need to be hired for the project. In addition, since Bear Creek Lake State Park takes the position that they own the manholes within their park, she suggested the County allow the park to pay for their upkeep as well.

A 30 percent increase in utility rates would be required to begin covering the costs.

Supervisors unanimously voted to loan the money needed for the repair work from the County’s general fund to the utilities fund, which is currently in the red. The expectation is the loan will allow the utility costs to be raised gradually over time to pay for the needed maintenance.

Giles recommended an initial increase of 10 percent.

“Thirty percent would be great, because the (utility) fund is not in good shape…But, that’s hard on people,” said Giles, adding she believed 10 percent was a manageable escalation. She anticipates the County will need to increase the rate by 10 percent a few more times down the road.

A 10 percent increase would bring an additional $35,000 in revenue to the utilities fund, says Giles.

“I would be, possibly, comfortable with a loan to the utility fund,” said Chairman Lloyd Banks, District Two. “I’m not comfortable with the citizens paying for repairs to the water/sewer system. I mean, those of us who don’t use the water/sewer system have to get our drain fields pumped…or our well pumps replaced…The fees should cover operation and maintenance.”

When it was built, added Supervisor Bill Osl, District One, the United States Department of Agriculture, which helped fund the project, required the system be supported and maintained by the users of the system. “I think it’s a good principle for us to continue to follow,” he said.

Many users pay the minimum payment of $28.50 for water, said Giles. A 30 percent increase would increase their bill by roughly $10.

“The ones that are really going to hurt are the businesses that are on a much higher rate,” pointed out Supervisor Kevin Ingle, District Three.

The Water and Sewer Advisory Committee will be meeting to consider options and provide a recommendation, Giles told the board.

A public hearing and change in the ordinance would be required to raise the rate.